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Harry Footner

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Harry Footner (c1840-1931), Chief Engineer for permanent way for the London and North Western Railway

1931 Obituary[1]

"Mr. Harry Footner.

The death on the 21st instant, at the age of ninety-one years, of Mr. Harry Footner, removes from us the acknowledged “ father ” of the permanent way of the London and North-Western Railway, and therefore of what it was quite safe to call “ the finest track in the world.” There is, however, a further honour to Mr. Footner’s credit, which, moreover, is one of wider influence than his improvements in permanent way. We refer to the fact that he originated gravitational shunting. Whilst it is true that at Jarrow on the North-Eastern, at Accrington on the Lancashire and Yorkshire, and at other places, advantage had already been taken of the fact that the line was on a rising gradient to use the ascent as a means for assisting the shunting movements off the ascending line into the sidings, Mr. Footner went further. In 1873, at Edge Hill, Liverpool, he laid on 40 acres of land, the eastern end of which was 35ft. above rail level and the western end 5ft., two series of sidings in grid-iron fashion, into the first of which wagons, received from the docks, were let down out of a shunting neck and sorted into “ districts.” Thence the wagons passed into the second series, where they were sorted into station order, and so formed into complete trains. Mr. Footner retired from the position of chief engineer for permanent way, London and North-Western Railway, in 1902, on reaching the age of sixty-two, and, after a membership of forty-five years, resigned from the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1912."

1931 Obituary[2]


With the general public railway engineering seems to begin and end with the locomotive, .but engineers rightly assess the equal importance of the permanent way. In this connection it is but fitting that appreciative reference he made to the work of the late Mr. Harry Footner, who for some 42 years was connected with this part of the organisation of the old London and North Western Railway. Mr. Footner, whose death occurred recently at the ripe age of 91, retired from the position of chief engineer for permanent Way on that railway in 1902, having been in the company’s active service since 1860, when, on completing his training, he joined the engineering staff at Euston. After four or five years’ work at headquarters, Mr. Footner was detailed for duty in ‘the Liverpool district. Here he was responsible for the first enlargement of Lime-street station, and was in charge of the widening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway between Edge Hill and Huyton stations, and the branch railway from the latter place to St. Helens. He was also in charge of the earlier portion of the works for the new north dock at Garston. In 1873, he was selected for the charge of the maintenance of the Crewe district, . in which he remained until 1886, In this capacity he effected great improvements, in the methods of dealing with traffic to and from the Liverpool Docks, which had become very congested, particularly about Edge Hill, This involved a very large amount of structural work; resulting from the necessary deviation and alteration of levels to a great number of main lines and junctions. The reconstruction was accompanied by the then new system of gravitational shunting, earlier attempts at this having been, more or less, tentative. The Edge Hill yards proved eminently successful.

Another outstanding piece of reconstruction work for which Mr. Footner was responsible, was in connection with the last enlargement of Crewe station. This consisted, amongst other things of placing the goods lines underneath the main passenger lines for the whole length of the passenger station and for'some distance beyond, and working the traffic through tunnels or subways. In 1886, Mr. Footner was given control of the maintenance of the whole of the London and North Western line, under the late Mr. Stevenson, and the state of excellence reached by the track under his supervision will be in the minds of all who used the route. This attention to detail resulted in many improvements contributing to the convenience of the travelling public, such as ms substitution of broken and screened granite, or furnace slag for coarse gravel used as top ballast, on the whole line from London to Carlisle, a change which eliminated complaints of dust entering the carriages. In addition to his capacity for detail, Mr, Footner displayed a notable readiness of resource, a faculty which may be illustrated by a reference to a rapid piece of work on the Chester) and Holyhead line, where, in 1879, heavy rains had led, to the washing away of a stone arched viaduct spanning the River Dulas. Mr. Footner at onoe put in. hand' the construction of a temporary wooden viaduct) at a somewhat lower level than the old stone one and with an inclined approach at each end.. This was completed, with the necessary connections, in less than) four days, and the entire traffic, which had been; stopped, could thus be resumed. Mr. Footner became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1867,; but resigned in 1909, after his retirement from actual practice.

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